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Day 1 – part 2 Isle of Skye

After our trek through history in the castle and a walk on the beach it was time for lunch. Skye, as I mentioned isn’t very commercialized. There aren’t pubs and restaurants on every corner. We drove for quite a while before we saw a small sandwich board at the end of a long lane saying ‘lunch specials’. So we headed down the lane. There were no other cars and no signs of life. It didn’t look promising.


Like so many uncertain moments in travelling, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope for the best. The tiny little building we found beside the residential house was nothing short of a haven. It was small but the white walls and sky lights in the ceiling and classical music playing made you feel like you’d stepped into another world. Step out the door…music stops and silence prevails. Step inside and there’s a created world of music and art and thoughtful food. This is exceptional in the land of pubs and bakeries.


Everything about the Old Byre Café said ‘labour of love.’ From the photographs hanging on the wall (and for sale) that were taken by the owner, to the décor and the menu, there was a loving attention to detail. This is the project of artists who left busy stressful jobs in London to escape and pursue their passions.

The bread was all made from scratch, there were gluten free options, smoked meat and local cheeses. I had orange polenta cake (yes, that was my lunch…I’m on holidays, keep your judgments to yourself) and Dave had a plate with smoked duck, smoked venison, cheese and a bean salad. Everything was delicious. (I really need to keep a food journal…no, not the joy sucking calorie counting drivel, but the inspirational kind. That bean salad was like nothing I’ve ever had before and now I forget why! Hmmm…a food journal for inspiration. I’m going to get on that).


Bolstered by our lovely lunch we headed off to the famous Neist Point. Many of the roads on Skye are winding single lane adventures with little side patches occasionally that allow you to pull over and let oncoming traffic go by. It feels very old world. The ancient hills all around, the marks running through them that show where water has travelled and worn down the rock in a never ending, century after century cycle of rain and evaporation. And just when you have yourself dreaming of historical events, the car gets stopped by a herd of cows and their ATV riding herder. And presto, you’re back in the present.




Neist Point




Huge cliffs, churning ocean, sheep grazing and spectacular. It’s the stuff of post cards and it does not disappoint when you finally see it in real life.

Dave walked all the way to the top. See him up there?


Waaaay up there!


I got further than I expected, but definitely not to the top. The sheep and I did some quality bonding part way up.




I was fascinated by how close they got to the edge of the cliff to eat. Could it have tasted better over there? Where is their mother? Are they passive aggressive teenagers flirting with danger? (I digress).


So close to the edge! Why?



Back in the car to face the narrow winding roads again, it’s time to find a very special place to our daughter Annie.

The September past our daughter, then living in Winnipeg, decided to make some bold moves of her own. She found a couple of places in Europe where she could go and do what she loves to do, in exchange for room and board. (HelpX for any who might be interested).

Her first stop was Skye. She worked on a unique horse trekking farm. Aside from all the usual work of being on a horse farm, the shovelling and grooming and riding (in this regard work=play to Annie) they were experimenting with meditation with the horses. That is, meditating while on the horse.

We had vague instructions of where to find this place. Instructions like ‘it’s within walking distance of the pub in Edinbane, down the highway a little further and turn up a road…blah blah blah.’ We thought that in a small place like this these instructions would be fine. Silly us, we thought there would be signs as well. What were we thinking?

It was disappointing to have gotten that close but not to have found it. So we headed for the pub. That’s what you do when you’re tired and hungry and disappointed right?


The Pub was just what we needed. Part of traveling is adventure eating right? And at some point while in Scotland you need to try the things that excite the locals. Gulp…so here we go. When in Scotland…


Smoked haddock/potato soup (YUM!) and black pudding garnished with fried pork belly, apples and greens. We did it. Of course it was better than expected but that doesn’t mean I feel the need to ever eat it again. Oh the soup, yes!



Then we shared an order of fish and chips. As you do. It was all good.

Part way through the meal I asked the server if she knew were the Skye Trekking Centre was…she sure did! She was the owner. It’s not a huge island. It was lovely to at least meet her.


Driving our 50 minute drive home that night we were treated to a long slow fading sunset. Colours shifting and changing every few minutes like slow moving painting. All was well. We were tired from the long day but this was perfect.




Until we realized that if we were heading into the sunset we were heading the wrong direction.

Extra long drive home that night Mama. We really should have booked early and been closer. Oh when will we learn?



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Isle of Skye – Day 1

I’m a procrastinator. I married a procrastinator. We aren’t worriers and we seldom get our knickers in a twist. And much to my mother’s chagrin, this has often served us well. I think she would have preferred that life would have taught us a lesson by now on the benefits of careful planning but so far our ‘don’t worry, things usually work out’ mentality has been confirmed. Over and over.
Well Mom, you’ll be happy to know that our time on the Isle of Skye was an exception to that. I booked our accommodation in Edinburgh quite early (early for me) because of the Fringe Festival, but our reservations on Skye, regrettably, for some reason, just didn’t happen. When we finally did sit down at the computer to find a hotel or a B&B there was one left. That’s right…one! And unfortunately it was actually 50 minutes drive from Skye. So each and every day, we started and ended with a drive. I tell you this because if you’re ever going in the summer, book early!

On the bright side, what a drive that 50 minutes was! Wow! There was almost always water on at least one side of the road.


Rolling hills, little white stucco houses, sheep, horses and green. So much green. Since we were headed back to the desert soon I knew to absorb every last ounce of the green. We commented many times that the landscape was very Cape Breton like, Newfoundland-ish. If you’ve ever been to either of those places you’ll know the beauty I speak of. (By the way, almost every little white stucco house is a B&B and they ALL had “no vacancy” signs out front…it’s true, book early).


Skye was also teeming with tourists. However, nothing was ever crowded and nothing is spoiled by commercialism. I kept marvelling that in spite of all the tourists there weren’t any waterslides or tourist attractions of that kind. Disney had not moved in. You didn’t have to pay for any of the natural sites and sometimes there weren’t signs for what you were looking for, you just all of a sudden realized you were there, where someone had sent you, to see something amazing.
In pondering the wonderful lack of commercialism I realized this: Of our three days on the Isle of Skye we enjoyed 2.75 days of sun. Apparently that 2.75 days of sun was probably ½ of the days of sun they get in a year. And even with all the sun, you can see that in the middle of August with the sun shining down on us, I was often wearing a jacket and scarf. Yes, it would take a hearty person to live here. No wonder pubs are ubiquitous and happy celtic music is required on a daily basis. Good people these.



Dunvegan Castle

Our first stop was Dunvegan Castle, which included a boat trip to see the seals. Often you only see a few seals but because it was a sunny day we saw tons of them sun bathing on the rocks. We took way too many pictures of them, but they were so cute, and we were so close! Pictures were irresistible.









We walked through the castle and imagined what it was like to live in there during the different events of history. The master bedroom was smaller than most modern builds today (in Canada anyhow), how spoiled we’ve become. The dining room was grand with its high ceilings and big windows that looked out over the water and seals.

Check out the night potty….




The walls were decked with huge portraits of the previous Chiefs of the clan MacLeod. Among the portraits hung one lone portrait of a woman. In all the centuries of Chiefs, Dame Flora MacLeod was the only woman ever to assume this role. Isn’t she magnificent? I can feel her strength and her no nonsense practicality.


What was it like for her to walk these quiet halls, stand in the window of the dining room or her office and look out over the water pondering a right course of action for the whole clan?


I want to know more about her. She was ambitious. I read of her many accomplishments. She was smart. She was also one of the longest living MacLeods. Many of the wives’ portraits were on the walls as well. Most of them seemed to live into their mid 40’s. Dame Flora lived to 98 years old. She lived at Dundern Castle until she was 95.

The dungeon was impressive, in a bad kind of way. Thirteen feet down a 4X6’ room. It was said that one of the Chiefs put his wife down there. This castle has so many stories to tell.
Down the road we took a lovely walk at Coral Beach. We enjoyed the sun and the fresh air. As always, I had my eye on the flowers and noticed that so many of the flowers on Skye are purple and yellow. I wonder why that is. Of course there was heather and thistle everywhere, something that looks like bluebells, clover, chives, dandelion, mustard, buttercups, several kinds of daisies and the beautiful wild roses! The smell of wild roses is way beyond the cultivated varieties that we’re used to. In our hybridizing we’ve sacrificed smell for larger deeper coloured flowers. The smell of the wild rose is absolutely intoxicating. I almost hyperventilated trying to breath it all in.




That takes us until noon on the first day. Maybe I’ll have all my memoirs of Skye written by the time we start travelling again next summer…at this rate! (Good thing I took notes and pictures!)


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Baking Pies and Family Ties

I baked a pie yesterday.

I have a history with pie baking, a family history.


When I got married at 22 years old I was given 15 pie plates because people already knew I loved baking pies.
But the story doesn’t start there. I didn’t learn how to bake pie in a vacuum. My Mom was a great pie baker and her Mom…well she was the queen of baking.

Grandma Phibbs was a test baker for Robin Hood flour in her younger years. She insisted that the best pie crusts always started from Robin Hood flour and Crisco Shortening. No compromises. No exchanges. Well Grandma, I live in the desert in the middle east now, where no such thing exists. I did the unthinkable. I made pie crust with butter and local flour.

Something about baking pie connects me with my Mom and Grandma. The whole time I’m baking, mixing, rolling, I think about the stories of pies baked before, grandma in the test kitchen, the food truck that my grandma worked on where she met my grandpa, a number of times I heard my Mom call my grandma to ask or talk about something she was baking and the number of occasions I have baked pies for.

Baking pies is one of the very few things that I do in the kitchen that doesn’t require or need some kind of electric gizmo. There are hands involved, utensils that are generated by hands and a beautiful wooden rolling pin. So tactile. So connected. So earthy.


As I roll the pie crust I think of all the tips passed down from my mothers, the familiar feel of the dough in my hands. The rituals and traditions steeped in the process. This is one thing I do in my kitchen that probably looks exactly like it did when it went down in my grandmother’s kitchen (and maybe her grandmother too).

I like to experiment in the kitchen. I lamented to Dave just the other day that I seldom get good at anything because I love to try new things and don’t make anything over and over again.

Pie is the exception.

And then there’s the finished product. The beauty of a pie…it’s not fancy like some of my other experiments. It’s kind of rustic. The golden brown crust and the bubbling apples and sweet smell filling the house, as it has done many many times before is so rewarding and homey.


This morning it has come to my attention that the lovely human who comes to clean my house each week will be celebrating a birthday in a couple of days. Perfect, there’s a little pie dough left over and a few apples. I wonder if he’s ever had apple pie. I wonder if he will taste the history and family tradition in his gift.



My time spent in the kitchen yesterday and today, connecting me with my Mom and her Mom was like a joyful, hopeful prayer going out to her. Tonight she is in hospital fighting off pneumonia.

This one is for you Mom.


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Edinburgh, Scotland – Fringe Festival Fun!


Every year that we’ve lived in Qatar, we have taken the yearly travel stipend offered by our employer and tried to squeeze as many flights out of it as possible. So this year, while booking our flights home for the summer, Cheapoair generated a flight with a six-hour layover in Edinburgh. I was crazy excited by this and immediately started to figure out what we could do in six hours. While I was doing tailspins about this, my husband was on his computer calmly tweaking and adjusting search criteria and within minutes told me that for an additional $200 we could make that layover last a week! Um…yeah!


The serendipity didn’t stop there! The timing was perfect!

Edinburgh is the home of the original Fringe Festival and is still the world’s largest Fringe. This year we would be landing in Edinburgh smack in the middle of the three week festival. I couldn’t believe our luck.


The Fringe Festival, if you don’t know, is a huge performing arts blow-out that covers every imaginable genre. Music, acting, acrobatics, spoken word, drama, comedy, cabaret…you name it!

Several times during the summer I was on the Fringe website trying to pick out some tickets for shows we might like to see. The sheer number of them was overwhelming and I never did pick anything. When we got to Edinburgh, the overwhelming-ness did not go away.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about last year’s Fringe Festival: “The 2014 Fringe issued an estimated 2,183,591 tickets for 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows (of which 1,789 were world premieres), in 299 venues over 25 days. There were an estimated 23,732 performers from 51 countries participating. There were 607 free shows.”

No wonder we were overwhelmed!

We only allotted one weekend in the city but did manage to see 3 performances. One, meh, so-so comedian and two absolutely incredible plays.


*This play was by and about South Africans. It was a deep nuanced look at racial, economic and historical tensions.*

This is the largest street festival of its kind in the world.




We came across random piano players in the park, musicians of all kinds in the streets, magicians, artists performing optical illusions and much more. Pub lunches were always accompanied by live music.


*Watching this girl was mesmerizing. She had the thickest accent of anyone I met in Scotland, yet when she opened her mouth to sing her country and western songs…she had a southern twang like someone born in Nashville.*

On one afternoon, when I was too tired to walk anymore and Dave was going to nap in the park, I plunked myself on a park bench just happy to people watch for a while.

And what a show I got.


*This was the view from my park bench*

It wasn’t long before a young man arrived and set up to busk. Just him and his guitar. He was very good and even though it was only mid-afternoon, the crowd was already fairly inebriated and lively. There were people dancing right from his first song, girls trying to sing into his mike and dancing with him (let’s just say up-close-and-personal) and generally making it hard for him to focus.



I couldn’t have asked for a better belly laugh. At times my newly formed bench-friends and I were in tears laughing. When he confessed to the crowd that this was his first time busking, the crowd went crazy. Then he told them he had come all the way from Toronto Canada.  Bradly Mitchell from Toronto was the only lone guitarist I heard busking.  As I left, I tossed my contribution into his guitar case in the form of a Canadian bill (represent!)…to which he lit up. Way to go home-boy.


My final thought about Edinburgh? A weekend is NOT enough. A week designated to the Fringe Festival would be more appropriate and it does not have to be expensive. Most of the entertainment is very reasonably priced and lots of shows are free. One of the most touristy things we ever do in a new city is the Hop-On Hop-Off busses. This gives an overview of the city so you can figure out what exactly you want to see and then it provides the transportation to get you there (14 GBP).


Minimize accommodation expenses by staying in an Airbnb. Especially if you’re visiting with the expressed purpose of hitting the town every day from morning until night and only need a place to sleep. This is where we stayed in Edinburgh. Our hosts were very helpful with directions, where to eat, what to see, where to get tickets etc etc.

Next time maybe we’ll just go for the Fringe…we’ll see. But this time, we had more to see and do so we pulled ourselves away.

Next we’re heading for the north of Scotland. The Isle of Skye.

Last year at exactly this time, our daughter went to live and work on Skye for a month. She gave us a list of things to see and do there.

Have you been to Edinburgh? What did you see? What did you think?


Here are some more random pictures. The pictures, by the way, are almost always taken by David.











*The castle. Right in the middle of the city. It was just incredible.*









*Apparently the nose on this dog was lucky to touch. Every year the paint gets worn off the nose and every year they repaint it. For the first time, they’ve decided to stop painting it. I like the gold nose.*












*Coffee break. Look at that gorgeous tart! And a handsome man too.*































*I love plaid. It always catches my eye. It’s so disappointing to me that the Douglas plaid is really pretty much the worst one.*



*Long days of walking ended with scenarios like this. This was really nice because it advertised (and delivered) gluten free pizza. Nice treat for me.*


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Day #3 Thailand….and Tigers – Oh My!


This day was just filled with goodness and fun. While it looks like these tigers are sedated (and wouldn’t that be sensible, not nice, but sensible), the handlers assured us that they are not sedated. They have been lovingly handled daily since their birth. And it just so happens that tigers sleep 18 hours a day. Every now and then the trainers would tickle their faces with some dry grass to make them wake up for the pictures. Mostly they slept through our displays of love and awe.

You can see all the expected emotions in our faces. Nervous? Yes, a little. Mostly we were amazed and excited at being this close to animals that we’ve admired since, well, likely since our first elementary school projects were researched.

The handlers exhibited extreme caution. We were not allowed to be near the tiger’s heads, no sudden movements, when you pet them do it with a firm hand, no tickling action. Ya, like I planning on doing a little “cootchie-coo” with the big cats.

I did have one moment when one of the mid-sized tigers was awake. I was petting him and he turned and looked me right in the eyes. The handler said “oh oh oh!” Not in a really fearful way, but it did feel like everything stood still for one very special moment.


Honour and I also had the opportunity to play with the babies. Is there a baby animal that isn’t cute? These were the most fun. We didn’t have to be so stiff and slow moving. You can hear the handler in the video making an assortment of noises. I assume this is to train it to not be surprised or frightened by sudden noises. All the trainers seemed to be so kind with the tigers.

The only thing there was to possibly feel bad about today was that we were likely disturbing someone’s nap. My kids can attest to the fact that I do hate to have a nap disturbed.

















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Mixed Feelings – It’s a Classic Tourist Day


North Thailand


I have a sister and a daughter who are sometimes more in tune with animals than with people. When they first visited Qatar they were so excited to ride a camel.

The first opportunity we had to ride was on the beach. I found my sister sitting on the side of a sand dune by the water’s edge, looking at a camel. I happily…obliviously…plunked down beside her and said “Are you going to ride?”
She said, “I’m having nothing to do with this.” I was shocked. Why not? “That is the saddest camel I’ve ever seen.” (She was a former employee of an animal nature reserve, so this wasn’t her first camel). She proceeded to tell me why she thought that. She had good reasons. She had seen happy camels on this trip but not these ones. My daughter appeared moments later and without us saying anything she said “I’m not riding these camels.” These girls just know. They have a sense that I don’t have, although I’ve learned some things from them and I try my best now to be more aware.


Annie with a happy camel.


A camel with a happy Janice.















I really wished they were with us yesterday when we went to see the animals, in northern Thailand. I’d done a bit of research before we came but I’m not entirely sure how you can tell if animals are being well treated. I heard and read some horror stories. I could see that the elephants we were visiting weren’t badly treated. I couldn’t be sure they were well treated either. Are elephants happy painting pictures and playing soccer? Do they enjoy putting on a show for everyone? I can’t jump to a yes or no about that. I did see the area where the young elephants were learning to paint when we were river rafting. It looked like an outdoor kids class. Bottles of paint and an easel set up under a thatched umbrella. How could that not be happy?

At any rate, we also took a ride down the river on these big intelligent animals. It wasn’t far and they didn’t seem to complain. Thai people have been using domesticated elephants for labour for centuries. Now they have them working in the tourist industry. Still, I felt conflicted about the use of would-be wild animals for human entertainment.

On a side note – our driver was quite entertaining. After several questions about our family, he really felt that I needed a grandson and that he could help me out with that if I’d just let him have my “gorgeous daughter…so gorgeous….oh my Buddha, oh my Buddha.”















The water festival continued even on the elephant trails!








On our way back to the city we visited the ‘Long neck Karen’ tribe. Enter mixed feelings number 2. You may have seen a documentary about these people. The women from the age of 5 put rings around their necks. They add one a year for several years in an attempt to make their necks longer. Their reasoning varies from making them look ugly so men from other tribes won’t take them, to their long necks making them beautiful so they can attract a good husband. The reason is no longer the reason. The main reason is now tourism. Therein lies the conflict. The people are Burmese refugees and not Thai citizens so far (they’ve been here for 17 years). The men work in the fields and the women weave on their looms while the children play. There is a teacher who comes to the village every day at 5 and teaches them English. The village is clean. There were girls playing a game of checkers and giggling like schoolgirls. The children flirted with Honour (as usual). But it was weird. It’s strange to pay to go and see a tribe and take pictures of them. It’s also a way to give them money in exchange for something else and thereby support them when they’re stuck with no way to make money otherwise. The little girls with rings on their necks made me sad. There was at least one girl who didn’t have rings around her neck because she is being sent to a Thai school for a regular education. I hope that’s the start a good trend.

Dave didn’t go because he’d just taught a Social Studies unit on tourism, and ironically, this very issue came up in a discussion on ethics and tourism. Dave told his class he wouldn’t visit these tribes because it encourages them to continue to keep putting the rings on their little girls. He had to stay true to his word. Our tour guide said that this was the only way these refugees had of making a living. Honour really wanted to go because she watched a documentary about them and we were right here. Stuck in the middle and understanding both sides, I went with Honour.






















Qatar advertising and Barcelona football reach into the remote Thai villages – small world.


I made a contribution to their little school and bought a little hand woven wallet. It made me feel like I was supporting the parts of their life that were healthy. Realistically speaking, we did have to pay to go there and part of that was picture taking and that’s the bad side of it all. Such a mixture of feelings.

Our world is full of these conflicts and choices and imperfect decisions. If we drive a car, or eat meat, or buy anything manufactured in China or Bangladesh or ….most any developing country…we take part in some form of unfairness in this world we live in. This conflicted, beautiful, messy, art/music filled, pain/joy filled, struggle/peace filled world.

Conflicted, but doing my best to walk with compassion.



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Thailand – From Dust to Water!

So a few days after the dust storm in Qatar, we arrive in Thailand for a spring holiday. The contrasts are endless. The green is the most obvious, but the rain is also a welcomed change. The freedom that is as palpable as the humidity is a welcomed change; from legs and arms exposed to beer on the patio and brightly coloured clothing the whole city felt like a party was happening.

And it turned out that there was a party happening or at least the whole country was preparing for one. Little did we know when we booked our holiday that it would fall right onto Thailand’s water festival. When we went to a travel agent to book some excursions in Chiang Mai, where we would spend 4 of our 6 days, she raised her eyebrows and said “You’re going to Chiang Mai?” She pointed out the window to the street. “Do you know why there is no traffic in Bangkok?” We did not.

“Because half of Bangkok has gone to Chiang Mai for the water festival!”

I’m not sure of the origins of the water festival, it’s tied to their new year, but this is what we know (and we know it well now). It’s basically a 3 day, whole city, water fight. People line the streets, armed with huge water guns and pails of water and throw or shoot water at everyone who passes by. People pile into the back of pickup trucks or tuk tuks for the sole purpose of the grand water fight.



Everyone participates, young, old, men, women…it’s hilarious. My favourite is the grandma’s who are armed with water guns and who belly laugh when they get you wet.



And guess what…they were twins! I bet they’ve been doing this since they were little and have great memories.


And wet you get! Soaked to the skin every afternoon. The hotels have water fountains running for everyone to fill up their weapons and music playing for everyone to dance to.

We’re told that it’s people showing each other that they love them. Often people yell we love you when they throw it and often the drenched say thank you. It seems like about 1/3 of the country drives motorcycles and of course the roads have lots of tuk tuks on them…they seem especially fun to douse with water as they drive by. Based on the glee people experience spraying motorcycles passing by, I would say they are the most loved.
It’s been so much fun and it’s incredible to see how far and wide the participation is in this holiday. The joy, the playfulness and the break from everyday worries must do everyone a world of good.





Time out!! Respect the monk!







P.S. I keep having ideas about books I might write. I’ve scrapped them all. But this has me thinking, how about “Best Practices For Happy Healthy Communities – From the Global Community” ??  Closing the country down for 3 days for a water fight would definitely find its way onto the list. (Perhaps in Canada we shouldn’t attach it to New Years).


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